Breathe easy Australia … but more to be done

Australian cities boast air quality that is among the best found in urban centres across the world, however we face a number of challenges if we are to maintain or improve that standing.

The comparatively high quality of air found in Australian cities was a notable finding in the Atmosphere chapter of the recently released national report: State of the Environment 2016.

“Air quality is generally quite good in Australia’s cities, and they benefit from being quite spread out from one another,” says Dr Kathryn Emmerson, an atmospheric chemist at CSIRO and one of the authors of the Atmosphere chapter of the report.

“Unlike in places like Europe or Asia, air pollution from one Australian city doesn’t tend to impact on other cities because of the distance between them.”

Although the overall air quality picture is quite good, Australia is performing better in some areas than others. The report found that levels of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, coarse particulate matter and sulfur dioxide have all decreased in the past 10 years. However, ozone and fine particle levels have not declined, and ongoing efforts will be required to better understand the impacts of this.

The report concluded that identifying the sources of fine particles (less than 2.5 microns in size) and reducing their presence in the atmosphere is one of the next major challenges on the air quality front.

“There needs to be further research into this because these fine particles can be breathed deeper into the lungs than larger particulate matter, which can cause greater health impacts. They can also be transported further and persist for longer in the atmosphere,” according to Dr Emmerson.

A new development since the 2011 State of the Environment report is that Australia has put in place air quality limits (supported by health experts) for these small particles.

In the ACT, residents have access to real-time air quality data through the Air Quality Index website launched by ACT Health in late 2014.

The relative good fortune Australians experience when it comes to air quality will be challenged by future population growth and predicted increases in energy and transport needs and associated emissions.

“Along with the increased emissions that will arise from population growth, we will also need to manage the impacts of climate change. For example, extreme heatwaves can change the chemical reactivity of the atmosphere, promoting the formation of photochemical smog,” Dr Emmerson says.

Ensuring air quality at Ginninderra

The most recent State of Environment Report for the ACT (2015) found that: ‘The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has good ambient air quality.’

‘The results of air quality monitoring during the reporting period show excellent results and continued compliance with National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards.’

The main source of emissions in the ACT continues to be motor vehicles. The report also found that pollution from wood smoke in winter is the major source of exceedances of particulate matter (PM) standards. ‘Smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns in the ACT and New South Wales also caused these standards to be exceeded.’

To maintain excellent air quality across the Ginninderra property, CSIRO plans to work closely with a future joint development partner and the community on initiatives such as:

“One of our goals at Ginninderra is to deliver a high quality built environment that promotes clean air and the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors and also supports the health of the surrounding ecosystem,” said CSIRO Acting General Manager for Business and Infrastructure Services, Joe Colbert.

Dr Kathryn Emmerson, atmospheric chemist at CSIRO and one of the authors of the Atmosphere chapter of State of the Environment 2016.

Air quality will be boosted through large conservation areas and revegetation with native trees, shrubs and grasses.

Preserving Aboriginal heritage at Ginninderra

Aboriginal groups have helped to find and salvage artefacts as part of the effort to better understand and protect important cultural heritage at Ginninderra.

Prior to European settlement, Ginninderra was known as Ginin-ginin-derry (said to mean ‘sparkling’ or ‘throwing out little rays of light’ in local Ngunnawal language) and was home to Aboriginal communities for many thousands of years.

The presence of Aboriginal sites on the Ginninderra site reflects elements of a natural and Aboriginal cultural landscape, and is a vital part of Ginninderra’s heritage.

Australia-wide CSIRO has been working with Aboriginal communities to ensure sustainable futures for Aboriginal people, culture and country and we certainly wanted that to be the case at Ginninderra also.

CSIRO and Environmental Resources Management (ERM) were joined on 19 December 2016 by traditional custodian group representatives to salvage artefacts from two paddocks within the Ginninderra site ahead of the proposed future development. Artefact salvage, together with conservation measures in the landscape, are important for protecting heritage features and strengthening the connection between Aboriginal communities and their heritage values.

Joe House from Little Gudgenby River Tribal Council, Karen Denny from Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation, James Mundy from Ngarigu Currawong Clan and Carl Brown from the King Brown Tribal Group were in attendance, and the group was able to record and recover all artefacts required with the help of Bruce Isaac (CSIRO), Sarah Ward (ERM) and Katherine Deverson (ERM).

The survey, recording and artefact salvage was undertaken in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and an archaeological research design developed specifically for the Ginninderra site.

“The reps were incredibly professional, experienced and a pleasure to work with,” said Sarah, Principal Consultant of Cultural Heritage at ERM. “Joe House has been surveying in Canberra since the early 1980s and brought a wealth of experience. In fact, he recovered one artefact made of stone not local to Canberra and said he had not seen anything like it in the region before.”

The 1216 artefacts salvaged were mainly flaked pieces from scatter sites that were used in the manufacture of stone tools. There are numerous such sites in the Ginninderra area. There were also some broken hammer stones recovered.

Stone tools were used for a variety of purposes including cutting, scraping (i.e. skinning animals), hammering, and as axes. Several glass artefacts appear to have been worked like a stone tool, which is rare for the ACT and if initial assessments are proven correct, these provide evidence of Aboriginal toolmaking post-European contact.

Wally Bell of the Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation and Traditional Custodian Group said, “The salvage process generally entails a tiered approach where we are engaged to conduct a survey on foot transecting the designated area and plotting the finds by the use of a GPS, photographing the items, and measuring their dimensions by length, width and thickness and as you can see this is a very scientific approach. The archaeologist then develops a methodology to locate any occupational use sites which are indicated by numerous artefacts scattered on the surface. Sometimes there may be isolated finds of one artefact.

“This survey may also indicate a potential archaeological deposit which is a landscape feature that may have subsurface artefacts due to the movement of topsoil over thousands of years or even the farming practices that may have taken place.

“If large deposits of artefacts are discovered, then this will lead to further investigation works being undertaken. These works entail a process called test pitting where an area is laid out in a grid pattern of 0.5m x 0.5m pits that are hand excavated at depths of 10cm spits until the topsoil reaches either clay or bedrock. All artefacts are salvaged and analysed.”

The artefacts that were recovered were initially analysed on-site which enabled evidence-based decisions regarding the quantity of artefacts at each archaeological site and immediate input from Aboriginal stakeholders.

Laboratory analysis is yet to undertaken.

With the salvage complete, plans for relocating the artefacts are in progress. While the final site is still to be determined, the most likely location will be outside but very close to the Ginninderra property.

“The reburial process is important to us as Aboriginal people as our cultural beliefs are that we come from the land and we eventually return to the land,” said Wally.

“Aboriginal people’s connection to country has come from our belief systems involving the ability to feel at one with the natural environment for thousands of years, if we care for the country the country will care for us. The materials that are salvaged – being the by-products of the tool making process – have a strong spiritual connection to country and when they are salvaged and taken away for analysis that spiritual connection is broken. It is important that the spiritual connection is re-established so that our past ancestral spirits can harmonise within the landscape and keep the environment productive and alive.”

Wally, in conjunction with the other representatives from the custodian groups, is working on increasing community awareness of ongoing Aboriginal ecological knowledge and traditional land management practices within the ACT and surrounding region. This is to begin to address the huge demand for greater knowledge regarding Aboriginal cultural heritage from ACT residents.

“The Ngunawal people’s traditional country contains many sites of Aboriginal significance due to our occupation of this area for over 21,000 years,” said Wally.

“An experienced Ngunawal descendent can provide an interpretation of the local Aboriginal cultural practices and the cultural landscape at various locations in and around Canberra. We can provide interpretive walks and talks in all Nature Parks to highlight how native vegetation was used for the provision of food and medicine.”

Over 700 people have participated in these heritage walks so far and a major impact has been the increased understanding of cultural natural resource management for participants.

If you’re interested in participating in a heritage walk, contact the Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation through their website.

CSIRO is actively involving Aboriginal people and traditional custodian groups in efforts to understand, care for and protect important cultural and historical heritage in the landscape of Ginninderra.

Find out more about CSIRO’s Aboriginal Engagement and Aboriginal Knowledge and Environmental  Management.



Project update – March

As we continue to collate the information required for the RFP as part of our procurement process, this month the project team also spent time exploring how new technologies could be utilised at the Ginninderra site in the future.

Advanced tools and expertise in understanding and analysing the past, present and future material and energy requirements of our cities provide us with new opportunities to plan and create truly sustainable cities and urban systems.

Four-dimensional modelling (4D-GIS) could be used to map and project sustainable resource flows, recycling, and environmental management benefits as the development unfolds at Ginninderra. The model could guide economic opportunities and provide a framework for positive and complementary relationships with neighbouring communities, the city and its environment.

Additionally, we’re looking at a ‘cognitive’ metering system that identifies the electrical ‘fingerprint’ of individual appliances to improve energy efficiency in homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities. The system based around Ecocentric’s Numen technology will break data down further than smart metering systems to show where and when energy is being used within a given building.

This is exactly the sort of system that could be developed, tested and refined in a science-backed sustainable urban development like CSIRO Ginninderra.

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